The Gold Coast is one of Australia’s most iconic destinations, a coastal resort area known for its white-sand beaches, as well as the glitz, glamour and kitsch of Surfer’s Paradise – perhaps the closest thing you’ll find to Vegas in this part of the world, so if you’re into casinos and nightlife, you’re in for a treat.
If that’s not your cup of tea, you might be surprised to find that beyond the more famous tourist hotspots, Gold Coast is a veritable treasure trove for visitors: whether you’re interested in cute little mountain towns, lush rainforests, delicious native fruits you won’t find in supermarkets, relaxing on an isolated tropical island or sampling the exceptional local wines, you’re bound to find your itinerary full of places that will make you fall in love with this very special area.
Lets explore the best things to do in the Gold Coast:
1. Get your glitz on at Surfer’s Paradise
Surfer’s Paradise is the most popular tourist spot in the Gold Coast, and even if you prefer your holiday on the quiet side, it’s still worth spending a day or so here enjoying the atmosphere, and many interesting attractions.
The Infinity Maze is a very well-designed, futuristic escape maze that is definitely worth a visit, and if you haven’t been to a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not before, it’s a lot of fun! If you loved haunted houses as a kid, Dracula’s Haunted House takes the concept to a whole new level, and it’s very professionally done (a little bit scary, but mostly fun!).
The Madam Tussaud’s wax museum here is also great entertainment for the morbidly-minded; as well as the usual wax celebrities, you’ll find a bottom floor dedicated to torture devices through the ages, which manages to be both informative and very creepy (especially as the guides really seem to love their job!)
While your heart is beating that little bit faster, Surfer’s is peppered with various thrill rides such as the SlingShot and the (aptly-named) Vomitron; on the other hand, if being flung upside-down isn’t your idea of holiday excitement, there’s always the gorgeous beaches that have made Surfer’s a beloved tourist destination for generations. And of course, there’s also the surfing!
2. Visit the picturesque Mount Tamborine
Mount Tamborine has an atmosphere of a storybook village, making it a popular spot for romantic getaways and weddings: it’s the sort of town that you fall in love with and don’t want to leave! Nestled deep within Lamington National Park, the town boasts acclaimed restaurants and wineries, rainforest walking tracks full of lush flora and abundant fauna, the beautiful Skywalk through the rainforest canopy, and a cute little main street called Gallery Walk where you’ll find a vibrant art culture, as well as cute little bespoke handicrafts to take home as wonderful memories of your trip.
Also in Lamington National Park, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat has been a beloved icon of Queensland for almost a century, and has a rich and fascinating history, including a very exciting tale of heroism and rescue: consider taking one of the guided walks to learn all about this wonderful spot and the O’Reilly farming family who have called it home since 1912.
One of the most endearing attractions of O’Reilly’s is the very friendly population of brightly-colored crimson rosellas who will gladly eat out of your hands (or even use your head as a perch – don’t worry, they don’t bite and it’s a rather entertaining experience!) It’s a great spot for picnics, or to enjoy a gourmet meal at one of the four high-quality dining spots.
Adventurous types will enjoy the glow worm tour or flying fox, and nature lovers will enjoy a Segway safari, the wildlife show, or just enjoying the seemingly endless stunning walking and hiking trails.
This taste of verdant, natural Australian paradise will keep a special place in your heart.
4. Gold Coast Theme Parks
The Gold Coast is well-known for its theme parks, which are very popular tourist destinations and beloved by both the young and the young at heart.
There are four theme parks to visit, each with their own charms: Sea World, Dream World, Warner Bros Movie World, and Wet’n’Wild.
Try to make the time on your itinerary to visit all of them!
Movie World is great for lovers of Warner Bros favorites like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and the mascots that walk around make for great snaps to remember.
It’s very family-friendly and has matinee shows with all of the classic characters that have been loved by generations; on the other hand, if you’re passionate about Australian marine life, then Sea World is well worth a visit.
Thrill-seekers should head straight to Dream World, and if it’s a stifling-hot Queensland summer day, then Wet’n’Wild is a great place to cool down and have great fun in the process!
5. Shop till you drop at Broadbeach
Surfer’s Paradise’s more sedate neighbour boasts world-class cuisine, a well-kept casino, the gorgeous Cascades Gardens, and excellent high-end shopping.
While Surfer’s can get a little rowdy at times, Broadbeach is more popular with families and the 30+ set: think a little more Audrey Hepburn and a little less Kim Kardashian.
If you’re a shopaholic, Pacific Fair Shopping Centre and The Oasis Shopping Centre will have you absolutely delighted; there’s also lovely beaches, and a gorgeous boulevard lined with gourmet restaurants that’s perfect for an after-dinner relaxing stroll.
6. Water sports galore
Whether you’re learning to surf in Surfer’s Paradise, scuba diving or snorkelling with Australia’s beautiful marine life, or enjoying a jet ski adventure, there’s something for every lover of water sports in the Gold Coast.
If you’re a thrill-seeker, don’t miss out on parasailing, jet boating, or even a Fly Board (think jet ski meets jet-pack!) You’ll find so much to do on the water here, and it’s an exciting and different way to experience the delights of the Gold Coast.
7. Tantalize your taste buds with a tropical fruit tour
There’s plenty of native Australian fruits that you’d struggle to find even in Australian supermarkets, let alone overseas, and these shouldn’t be missed while you’re here: in particular, the fingerlime can be found at many fine-dining establishments in Queensland and nationwide, and is considered to be gourmet “bush tucker”. Imagine the tanginess of a lime, but sweet and extremely palatable.
You’ll also find a range of exotic tropical fruits from around the world, such as the black sapote, also known as the “chocolate pudding fruit”. Several fruit tours are available, which may take you to the doors of small-scale farmers, or even over the state border with New South Wales to the famous Tropical Fruit World.
8. Watch the pelican feeding at Labrador
Labrador is a suburb of the Gold Coast boasting stunning crystal-clear waters, coastal villas, fine dining, and a less expected attraction: dozens of pelicans! These amusing-looking birds are quite friendly, and have become a symbol of Labrador.
You can get up right close to the birds as they feast on the bits and pieces left over from the local fishmonger, Chari’s Seafood.
There’s also a lovely beach and park at this site, and it’s a lovely way to while away a few hours.
9. Escape to an island paradise at McLaren’s Landing
McLaren’s Landing is a picturesque Balinese-style resort on South Stradbroke Island, surrounded by gorgeous bushland and with a very luxurious atmosphere at affordable prices.
The Landing has its own private beach, a bar/restaurant, and various activities such as beach volleyball, jet skis, paddleboats, seaplanes, and more.
McLaren’s Landing is generally accessed through the Gold Coast Island Adventures cruise company, with full and half-day cruise packages available.
10. Visit the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is smaller than Australia Zoo, but with a less commercial and more cultural atmosphere, and more focus on Australian animals specifically: it is even registered on the Queensland Heritage Register, and has been around since the 1940s.
If you’d like a taste of retro Australiana, you can even meet the beloved Aussie icon Blinky Bill here.
The sanctuary was originally created as a bird sanctuary for the stunning rainbow lorikeets, and you can still meet and feed this breathtakingly beautiful bird when they flock to the sanctuary for the twice-daily feeding sessions.
While in the Currumbin area, you can also check out the rock pools, farmer’s markets, Freeman’s Organic Farm, and Superbee Honeyworld.
11. Eat a lamington at Lamington National Park.
You may have heard of the beloved lamington, an Australian cake that, along with pavlova, coconut ice fairy bread are staples of bake sales and birthday parties nationwide.
The first question that many visitors to the Gold Coast ask when they find out about Lamington National Park is, “is there some connection to lamingtons?” and the answer is yes; the National Park was named after Lord Lamington, who once made the National Park his home, and it is generally believed to have been invented by Lord Lamington’s chef.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a few spots to stop for a cup of tea and a lamington in the park, and it’s quite a meaningful experience to know that you’re enjoying this dish in its birthplace, along with many generations of lamington-lovers, and even Lord Lamington himself over a century ago!
12. Springbrook National Park
Springbrook National Park is approximately 1 hours’ drive from Lamington National Park, and there’s plenty to see here too, so if you have the time, it’s a great idea to spend a day or two here as well.
There’s some particularly breathtaking sites here, such as the gorgeous Natural Bridge, Purlington Brooks Falls, Wunburra Lookout and Canyon Lookout.
As you’d expect, there’s also wonderful walking trails.
If you’re peckish, the Dancing Waters Café comes highly recommended.
Coolangatta is much quieter than some of the other, more touristy suburbs of the Gold Coast, and feels a lot more like a typical beachside Queensland suburb.
As such, there isn’t an awful lot of “tourist attractions” as such, but the beaches are absolutely gorgeous, and it’s well worth a visit in its own right, especially if you’ve flown in from Coolangatta Airport.
14. Enjoy a slice of paradise at Paradise Country.
Paradise Country is a tourist farm in a town called Oxenford, just under half an hour from Surfer’s Paradise.
There’s plenty to do here, from panning for gold and mining for opals, to learning about Australian farm life: there’s stockmen and sheepdog shows, sheep shearing shows, a ram parade, and you’ll even get the chance to crack a stockman’s whip! It’s a fun day out for all ages.
15. Take an unforgettable balloon ride
The balloon ride operator Hot Air offers short tours of the Gold Coast, with gorgeous views of the Gold Coast hinterland at sunrise. The balloon tour guides are very knowledgeable about ballooning and about the area itself.
It’s quite a unique view and an experience to remember! Several different packages are available, including one that stops at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.